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CHAINSAW GUTSFUCK: Metal and the Evil Dead Films

Usually, the night doesn’t get much worse (or better, depending on your point of view) than having to butcher your girlfriend. For Ashley J. Williams, known to his friends as “Ash”, things were just getting started. Later in the night, he would be forced to re-murder his unholy resurrected ballet-dancing ex, saw off his own hand and replace it with a chainsaw, fight a fat basement-dwelling undead hag, battle the aforementioned severed hand when it is corrupted by black magic and comes back to life, fend off a long-necked demonic zombie who wants to swallow souls, and eventually use an arcane book of evil spells to banish a massive tree-demon, only to end up sucked into a cosmic vortex that would crap him out in medieval times. And through it all, a mounted deer head on the wall thinks it’s some sort of fucking joke.

What sounds like the pivotal scenes of six different scary films are all contained within Evil Dead II, the madcap horror epic created by Sam Raimi. A whirlwind hybrid of unspeakable violence and cartoonish hijinks, the Evil Dead series—which also includes the original The Evil Dead and the absolutely bananas Army of Darkness—has remained one of horror’s most lasting, albeit bizarre, franchises. Not only that, the series has had a noticeable impact on metal and metalhead culture. And while several scary movies and their respective villains have made deep impressions on extreme music, not many of them have had songs written about them.

A brief outline of the film series: the original film, The Evil Dead, tells the story of a group of five friends vacationing in a cabin in the woods. The friends find the Book of the Dead and play a recording of its previous owner reading a summoning passage from it. Later on they fight each other as they’re one by one possessed by demons. The film’s grotesquely serious tone—a young woman is raped by a demonically-controlled thicket, people undergo violence from being beaten with crowbars to having their insides torn out—is offset by the movie’s low production value and simple special effects, which add a ridiculous camp to the entire experience (the film was remade this year with a tone of dead seriousness, though they referenced the original with such moments as a bottle of “Chainsaw Gas” in the shed, a nod to Ash’s bottomless chainsaw fuel tank in the films). Evil Dead II is both sequel and retcon, with the original’s story briefly retold with only Ash and his girlfriend as protagonists before the story goes absolutely batshit, and a crew of newcomers—including the daughter of the original archeologist who unearthed the unholy book—broaden the mayhem. Army of Darkness, the truly lunatic installment of the original films, features Ash traveling back to medieval times where he must fight a zany army of deadites that he accidentally raises by not remembering the magic words (what a dickhead).

Death-“Evil Dead”

What makes the Evil Dead mythos immediately interesting to metal is its combination of classic horror tropes: zombies, demonic possession, and the works of classic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. The Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the ancient skin-bound blood-inked Book of the Dead in the films, comes directly out of Lovecraft’s fiction; according to Lovecraft, it was penned by Abdul Al-Hazred, the “Mad Arab”, and was used to communicate with and summon pre-Christian deities that wished to clear the earth of human life. In the films, the book summons Kandarian demons (‘Kandaria’ or ‘Kandar’ appears to be some fictional far-off place full of demons) that possess the forest and, eventually, human victims, making them appear similar to Linda Blair’s Regan from The Exorcist. And finally, there’s the resurrection of once-dead bodies and the need to completely dismember them that ties in the zombie horror and gore of horror gems like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

But these zombies, or ‘deadites’ as they’re later called, aren’t moaning meat-puppets hungry for flesh—they swear and play dead and urge you to give them your skin. Hence the title—these are not living dead, or walking dead, they’re evil dead. It makes sense, then, that metalheads would find this monster and mythology so appealing. It combines so much of what extreme metal songs showcase—Satanism, zombification, demonic gods of ancient cultures, incredible violence, and fuck-you attitude—into one nonstop horror package. In a way, every deadite is Iron Maiden’s own undead mascot Eddie—not just a living corpse, but a grinning demonic one that knows how to handle a knife and give you the finger. A severed deadite hand doesn’t simply twitch or crawl, it squeaks like a cruel hamster, pokes its previous owner in the eyes, and tries to skitter up some dame’s skirt. The comical over-the-top nature of the films only heightens their attraction to those who would spit beer at the Reaper Himself.

And yet, when it comes to the extreme music inspired by these films, the darkness therein is taken very seriously. Two of the first recognized Floridian death metal bands, Death and Deicide, wrote songs based on the films. Interestingly, though, neither band repeated the plots of the camp silliness of the movies, choosing instead to focus solely on the mythology behind them. On Death’s “Evil Dead”, frontman Chuck Schuldiner bellows “Trapped inside a life which is not yours/Spirits within causing terror, fear and darkness”. Deicide’s “Dead By Dawn” has a similar bent, with singer Glen Benton snarling, “We are what was, and shall rule again/Dead by dawn, chanting the evil hymn” and mentioning being taken to “the castle of Kantar.” No mention of chainsaws, crawling severed hands, or Bruce Campell’s sledge of a chin. The Evil Dead films created for an early generation of extreme metalheads an entire fictional world in which demons and revenants roamed their own private hell that’s two parts Tolkien-esque medieval bestiary and one part Brutal Legend, replete with blue-collar skeletons and loudmouth corpses. Such, one might say, is the mind of the average death metal fan, a fun-loving wiseass who loves the most grave subject matter on earth.

Deicide-“Dead By Dawn”

But the focus on the horror of the series always remains prominent to this day. On their latest album Everblack, Michigan’s The Black Dahlia Murder pen their tribute to the series, entitled “Raped In Hatred By Vines of Thorn”, which focuses on the grueling, terrifying scene in the original Evil Dead in which Ash’s sister is captured and violated by a writhing mass of possessed sticker bushes. The band’s lyrics evoke the gut-wrenching nature of this moment: “Murderous orgy in full bloom/Her screams, they cut the fog this night/On sheer terror, the seedlings thrive.” The Black Dahlia Murder are in many ways the perfect band to cover Raimi’s classic series in song, being both devotees to the horror genre and a bunch of the most recognizably goofy stoners in modern extreme music. BDM vocalist Trevor Strnad has publicly confessed his love of the movies, as well as his desire to be one of the many death metal bands who have written about them. Yet Strnad is also open about how much the films frightened him as a teen. “…the way people would contort and writhe was disturbing,” he told “The possessed had that awful way that they sounded when they spoke and howled…” For the vocalist, the campiness of the film comes second to its twisted, over-the-top nature, which should be taken at face value whether or not the series’ campiness is what made it famous. Such, in so many ways, is metal: easy to mock due to its grandiosity, and indeed full of fair-weather admirers whose devotion is based on hip irony, but truly moving and powerful for those willing to accept the art therein.

In many ways, that’s what makes the Evil Dead films so memorable. Unlike, say, the sadistic bondage monks of Hellraiser or the faceless killer of Halloween, the maniacal weirdness and surreal hilarity of the movies allows for the violence therein seems to admit its own silliness and then discard it, just like how the total bugfuckery of Vincent Locke’s Cannibal Corpse album covers makes them endearing, memorable of the genre’s hyperbolic sensibilities. While most horror stories pick a single focus, one that’s usually heavy on good-versus-evil morality, and stick with it, the Evil Dead series is all over the place, with its protagonist acting as just as much of a slasher as the beings he’s trying to brutally gut. For some, that’s just good fun, but for true appreciators, it is a relatable form of artistic expression. Being the hero or the savior is good and all, but being a chainsaw-handed shotgun-brandishing demon-banishing corpse-dismembering girlfriend-beheading soldier against the forces of evil…that’s groovy, baby.

— Scab Casserole

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